Calbee UK

with Mags Kerns, Head of HR

In this chapter of Start-Up Stories we got to chat with Mags Kerns of Calbee UK! A business who are a real ‘start-up success story’. Have a read to see all about their ambitious adventure from product innovations to what makes them different! 

What does Calbee UK do?

Calbee UK is a small snack-manufacturing company with very big ambition.

A complete start-up 3 years ago, but now transitioning into a thriving SME, the creation of Calbee UK came about when our parent company, Japanese global snack-manufacturer, Calbee Inc, decided to enter into the well-developed UK & European snack market, by creating its first subsidiary in this part of the world.  As a result, Calbee UK was born.

For a while, Managing Director, Richard Robinson, was our only employee, carefully creating from scratch the vision and strategy to develop Calbee as a bold new entrant in this already highly-competitive snack market.  He had the metaphoric blank canvass – a hugely exciting place to be.  But with Richard’s vast knowledge and experience of the industry, we were in safe hands from the very outset.

Today we are very happy to have major retailers such as Tesco, Aldi, and M&S among our valued customers

You’ve had growing success with Yushoi, can we be expecting any more flavours?

So, we launched our business with our first brand – Yushoi, which was positioned in the better-for-you category; a vegetable-based snack which is Gluten Free, lower in fat and calories, high in fibre and a source of protein – all in a range of fantastic flavours.

The growth of that brand has been phenomenal – with latest figures (June 2018) showing us as hitting a new record sales high of over £6m with year on year growth of 42%.  This means we’ve grown the number of consumers buying Yushoi by over 50% year on year.

“Of course, we are delighted to see all the hard work paying off!”

And all this is happening in the same few weeks that we are now expanding our UK portfolio. We have also been working with a co-manufacturer to extend the Yushoi brand and create the innovative new sub-brand called “Inclusions” which launched into Tesco on 2 July. These are chickpea popped snacks with real vegetable inclusions in 2 fantastic flavour combinations: Fire Roasted Chipotle and Caramelised Onion & Balsamic Vinegar.

Not stopping there, we are expanding our portfolio into everyday snacking with a brand-new launch into Tesco of Calbee Rustiks. Rustiks can be described as a fantastically moreish potato chip snack, in both Lightly Salted and Salt & Vinegar, available instore from 2 July.

So incredibly exciting times, with yet more new products coming down the innovation pipeline soon!

What is the company culture like at Calbee?

Our colleagues tell us over and over that amongst the best things about working for Calbee are the “great people, fantastic team spirit, warm atmosphere and the encouragement to be truly entrepreneurial in everything we do”

So, we have already developed a very strong and warm culture where operating with integrity, customer focus, empowerment, accountability as well as a passion for excellence as standard are all part of the every-day here at Calbee – and we will continue to drive this culture as we grow and expand.

What makes Calbee different?

An ambition for us here at Calbee is to be genuinely recognised and admired as being a really great place to work – and for this to be 100% authentic. In doing that we are striving to continually be innovative in our approach as an employer, and by “daring to be different”.

We have grown to have 80 colleagues in total now, split between our factory in Deeside, North Wales (60 colleagues), with the remainder being based at our commercial office in Leeds. And we have yet more ambitious plans for further growth into 2019 and beyond.Calbee Rustiks

We are absolutely passionate about our people – their wellbeing, their happiness, their motivation, and engagement, as well as ensuring that they have every opportunity to fulfill their full potential.

We are extremely proud of our approach to colleague learning and growth which we see as being fundamental to the core of our business; every single colleague is given a “personal invitation to develop their career at Calbee UK” – and this is inclusive to everyone. For example, we have a nationally recognised apprenticeship programme for every colleague in our factory as well as a carefully planned and bespoke Management Development Programme which we currently have 24 colleagues participating in. We also have lots more besides. It really is a high priority!

What did being a start-up mean to you?

Being a start-up was undoubtedly a hugely exciting adventure – often a bit of a roller-coaster. There were challenges and learnings every day, but then this would be offset by the “highs” that would come from making some huge stride – like for example gaining Marks & Spencer as a customer within only 16 weeks of setting up!

The other difference being in a start-up phase was that, although we had very been very fortunate in being able to attract some truly great talent from various food manufacturing backgrounds, we were all strangers to each other, with no common history.

“So we quickly needed to develop and bond as a team so that we could get the business where we wanted it – which we mainly achieved this through sheer grit and determination.”

But thinking further on this, we decided to develop a carefully planned and bespoke leadership development programme for all our key functional managers – and enlisted the help of a fantastic Leadership Development consultant to help facilitate this process.  This certainly had the desired effect of accelerating our development as a team.

Yushoi is just one of your awesome brands, is this just the beginning?

Absolutely – new product innovation is key to our future and something that is always at top of our strategic agenda.  We are constantly living and breathing our consumer insights which we then use to inform and inspire us to generate more fresh and original ideas. Watch this space!

Where can people find your brilliant products?

We are in most of the major supermarkets!

What’s your vision for Calbee?

Our vision is “to be recognised and respected as the UK’s leading savoury snack supplier” – and we are already gaining very positive attention and traction in the food and snacking industry, mainly due to our principal point of difference which is our highly agile and nimble approach to doing business.

It has been a high priority to create a values-led business, where factors such as openness, honesty, trust, innovation and exceptional performance are all built into the fabric of everything we do, every day. We also love to be involved in our local communities – supporting great projects and causes, not by simply making random donations of cash, but rather by offering up our time, knowledge and experience.  We have developed some great long-term partnerships with some fantastic projects supporting the more vulnerable members of our communities.

Calbee UK are already taking on the world! Be on the lookout for their awesome snacks in supermarkets across the UK!